Caring for Staff During Unprecedented Times
While the COVID-19 outbreak has affected every professional field, international educators have experienced their own unique—and confounding—challenges. The situation represents an unprecedented test for senior international officers (SIOs) and other leaders, as the crisis brought new workplace issues and uncertainty. Taking steps to help ensure staff’s mental health is not simple or easy, but doing so can help staff stay healthy, motivated, and engaged in their work.
“For international educators, the degree of uncertainty is so much higher than for other educators,” says Allison Vaillancourt, PhD, vice president for organizational effectiveness at Segal, a consulting firm. “Everyone is facing uncertainty, but people in international education are facing profound levels of uncertainty.”
“[People] are dealing with the uncertainty of enrollment, they’re supporting students and their own kids, and they’re wondering if they will have a job,” says Vaillancourt, who has more than 25 years of experience as a human resources leader at higher education institutions. “All of this [creates] personal stress [along] with professional anxieties to deal with.”
“Everyone is facing uncertainty, but people in international education are facing profound levels of uncertainty.” —Allison Vaillancourt
While most of the attention has been on ensuring student safety during the pandemic, easing stress and anxiety for staff should also be a priority for leaders. Most managers are not mental health experts, but leaders can promote staff well-being using communication, empathy, and flexibility.
Acknowledge “Crisis Mode”
Recognizing just how profound the change has been for staff is the starting point. For international educators, dealing